Off-campus students signature away from losing free Internet

Tracy Deutmeyer

A little ink from Gov. Branstad’s pen and Senate File 519 will force off-campus students and faculty to say goodbye to free Internet access through the Iowa Communications Network.

On Tuesday, the Iowa Senate passed the bill by a vote of 35-15. The House passed the same bill last week. It’s now in the governor’s hands.

The bill would effectively force the university to deny ISU students and faculty free Internet access through ICN from their homes or anywhere off campus.

Carol Bradley, ISU’s director of governmental relations, said if the governor signs the bill, it would not change Internet access from on-campus computers, including those in the residence halls and offices of faculty members.

“Our position as a university and the regents is that we oppose the bill as passed. It would essentially create two classes of student learners,” Bradley said.

Eric Woolson, Branstad’s press secretary, said the governor “has not yet decided to sign or veto the bill,” but Woolson said the governor “has concerns.”

Woolson said Branstad is a supporter of ICN as an educational tool. He said the governor will give strong consideration to the bill over the next few days.

John Kingland, director of the ISU Department of Telecommunications, said if the governor signs the bill, the university has two options.

He said the university may stop access to the Internet from dial-up ICN providers like 268-4PPP and 268-enet. Now students can dial 268-enet for free to get into the campus network and host servers. Students can also dial 268-4PPP to directly connect to the Internet for a fee of $7 per month. If students use 268-4PPP more than 14 hours between the hours of 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. in one month, they are charged an additional 50 cents an hour.

Kingland said the university could provide access through a commercial carrier for a fee if the bill becomes law.

By all accounts, just how the university would block Internet access to off-campus users is uncertain.

Bradley said the bill does not prevent students from gaining access to class homepages and other university electronic postings, but the university would have to develop some way to prevent off-campus users from “net surfing” to other Internet sites.

Kingland said it may not be possible for the university to block off-campus students from using ICN and “going to the greater Internet world.”

If that’s the case, Bradley said, the university may be forced to drop the network and look elsewhere for Internet services. That would be “extremely costly.”

Government of the Student Body President Adam Gold said he spoke to representatives in the Governor’s Office on Monday. “He [Branstad] doesn’t like the bill as it is, but I don’t know if he will veto it. I don’t know if 15 votes against it is enough to veto it,” Gold said.

Gold said he thinks the bill is a mistake. “Over half of the students at Iowa State don’t live in the dorms,” he said.

Internet access through private companies, possibly the only option for off-campus students and faculty wanting to log on to the Internet if the bill is signed, costs about $25 a month. “I wouldn’t get it if it cost me 20 bucks a month,” Gold said.

The bill was written in response to complaints from private companies. The companies said ICN was taking a chunk of their potential profits.

Dave Rehbein, assistant scientist at the Ames Laboratory, was sympathetic to the claims of private enterprise, “but as a taxpayer, I don’t have a problem with universities providing access for students,” Rehbein said.

He said many companies provide access to the Internet for reduced rates and he doesn’t see why a university can’t provide the same access for its students and faculty.